For a new parent, teething can be a frustrating and confusing life stage. While it's a parenting milestone most know to expect, teething babies can't yet tell you what's troubling them. As such, it's common for many parents to note the distress signals and conclude that their child's symptoms could indicate a whole host of causes.
What's a parent to do?
Rest assured that there are well-supported signs of teething common to all teething babies. This guide will help you know for sure what those signs are and learn how to soothe your baby's discomfort.
When Teething Begins
Your teething baby already has all their teeth in utero. But actual eruption — when the tooth pokes through the gum — is when teething begins. The American Dental Association reports that teething typically starts around 4 to 7 months. However, the reality is that teething timelines differ for every baby. There's no need to worry if your child hasn't sprouted their first tooth even after the first year or if teething begins as early as 3 months old.
1. Early Teething
Early eruption can occur anywhere from at birth to 3 months old. However, the National Institutes of Health recommends that natal teeth (teeth that erupt in utero) or neonatal teeth (teeth that erupt in the first month after birth) be monitored by your doctor or paediatric dentist.
Though natal and neonatal teeth are rare, they can erupt either malformed or missing dentin. They can also sometimes cause trouble for sucking or breastfeeding, which could be a cause for extraction. But if there is no sign of distress or dysfunction from these early teeth, no treatment is needed.
2. Late Teething
Because teething timelines vary so much, your baby might happily sail through their first year gumming their soft food with no first tooth in sight. The majority of kids will cut their first tooth by 11 months of age, but many others will in fact begin teething between 12 and 15 months old.
You'll want to speak with your doctor if your child is still without a first tooth after 15 months. Delayed teething typically isn't a cause for concern, unless it's symptomatic of an underlying condition.
From the first tooth eruption to the final sprout of baby teeth, your child will cut 20 teeth in total, usually by the time they're 3 years old. The four front teeth tend to appear first, and teeth typically cut in tandem on each side of the mouth.
Teeth can emerge one at a time, or overlapping timelines can create several eruptions at the same time. But knowing the order of teeth eruption can help you pinpoint where your baby is in the teething timeline.
Signs of Teething
Recent research has shown that teething won't make your baby truly sick, though it may make them distressed and irritable for a time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 10 comprehensive studies show that signs of illness, such as fever, are not indicative of teething. Instead, true fever (classified as a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher) is a sign of another illness and should be treated as such.
Nonetheless, a gradient rise in temperature can in some cases be attributed to teething. The AAP also notes that the most common signs of teething are irritability, gum tenderness and drooling. If you notice your baby chewing on their hands or toys alongside all or one of these signs, it's most likely teething.
Of course, no matter your age, dealing with tooth pain can cause agitation and result in fatigue due to poor sleep. For parents who are hoping the process isn't overly daunting each time — for your baby or for your sleep schedule — the AAP notes that peak teething irritation occurs when your baby cuts their front teeth (or primary incisors). That typically happens between 6 and 16 months.
You may also notice that some teeth take longer to cut, such as molars, which have broader and more blunt surface areas. Your child may have redness in their gums and may favour softer foods or be averse to eating during particularly tender teething phases.
Common Teething Myths
It may also seem like your baby is teething all the time, with no break from one erupting tooth to the next. For some, that may very well be the case. But if you find your baby is chronically irritated, crying or having trouble sleeping, it's best to rule out other ailments that may be causing their distress.
The myths that teething is always accompanied by diarrhoea, fever or even diaper rash have become so commonplace that it might be easy to accept them as true. It does make sense that increased chewing and drool can introduce greater amounts of germs and saliva into your child's system. These can then cause secondary conditions like a flu or even diarrhoea, respectively. But the most recent studies show that symptoms directly caused by teething are much less severe.
Soothing Teething Pain
Teething pain is best treated with temperature and pressure treatment, such as a clean, cold, wet teething cloth or chilled teething ring. Light massage with a clean finger is also a quick remedy for pain.
Experiment with different fruits and cold objects. Since pain relief is very individual, your teething baby might enjoy gnawing on anything from pretzels to cold carrots. Other kids find sucking on frozen bananas relieving. (Just be sure to keep pieces bite-size or monitor for safety to avoid choking.)
In the right-size dosage and upon your doctor's approval, over-the-counter acetaminophen (paracetamol) for children is completely safe to administer and can be done over a period of nights. But topical gels and analgesics have been found to be harmful to children younger than 2 and should be avoided.
You'll want to schedule your baby's first dental appointment upon their first tooth eruption and begin brushing twice daily with a soft-bristled brush. Don't hesitate to reach out to your paediatrician about teething. Creating a solid support network for your child's overall health sets the course for a healthy mouth, body and lifestyle.